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No, Wisconsin did not let Antonio Williams go just because of a tweet


Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Our beloved colleagues over at Land-Grant Holy Land published an article Wednesday explicitly arguing implying that Wisconsin let Antonio Williams, the former four-star running back recruit, flip his commitment to THE Ohio State University over an ill-advised tweet where the then-high schooler criticized Joel Stave after a 10-6 loss to Iowa in which Stave threw two interceptions. That, as you can imagine, got the rage juices flowing over here at B5Q.

Since you are reading this on a Badgers fan site, I will assume you are intimately familiar with this little drama, but in the event you were living on Gibraltar this time last year, the since-deleted tweet stated simply, “We won’t be elite until Stave leaves....”

Say what you will, but that hair is elite.

The bold statement from our dear friends at LGHL was based on an interview Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle had with Evan Flood published on Badger247 in which Settle indicated that Wisconsin players didn’t want Williams around after the tweet. The coach elaborated by saying that even though the tweet was quickly taken down, it was seen by injured running back Corey Clement, who immediately confronted Williams. Flood’s article heavily implied that Wisconsin was more than happy to let Williams pursue other commitments after the incident. Settle's interview showed the Badgers want criticism to be dealt with in house, not in public.

With all respect to our brothers in blogging at LGHL and all of the THE Ohio State University fans out there, while there’s no doubt that tweet played a role in the souring of relations between Williams and UW, the Badgers did not let a four-star back look elsewhere because of the young man’s less-than-thoughtful, 140-character contribution to English literature.

Look, Stave, while frequently pilloried by the fans for his frequent occasional tendency to throw the ball into the chest of players wearing colors other than cardinal and white, was well-respected by his teammates. After that Iowa loss, Vince Biegel stood by his quarterback, saying, “We believe in our offense. I believe in Joel Stave. I talked to him after the game. I said...’I’ll go out there an take a bullet for you.’ We believe in our offense.”

Was it well-thought-out for Williams to criticize a well-liked player on a squad he wasn’t technically even a member of in a very public setting? Nope. But c’mon, teens, particularly male teens, say dumb stuff all the time, particularly hot off of an emotional loss. If the team liked Williams (in the we-want-to-spend-every-waking-moment-working-with-you-and-we-trust-you-in-the-trenches sort of way), I suspect someone (perhaps even Clement himself) would have pulled the Badger-to-be aside and set him straight privately.

I think the reason that a player this talented, who up to that point had been the most vocal Badger cheerleader in his class, ultimately ended up at THE Ohio State University was because everybody kind of realized (Williams included) that he wasn’t a great fit at UW. The interview kind of sounds like the team didn’t really care for him and the coaching staff thought he was kind of immature. Williams himself has thrown some heavy shade Bucky’s way, calling THE Ohio State University “the top running back university in the country right now” a few months back (based primarily, it appears, on the existence of Ezekiel Elliott and a less-than-nuanced understanding of history).

While it was demoralizing at the time to watch a talented player go to a hated, hated, no, seriously, hated is the word I want to use respected in-conference rival, I think this was one of those cases where everyone wins in the long term. If there isn’t a fit, there isn’t a fit. And given high-profile instances lately of ballyhooed recruits not working out at UW, it’s better for everyone if that decision is made on signing day, not a year or two after.

So yeah, while the tweet might have been the straw, or nail, or some other metaphorical doohickey (tuba?) on the Williams-UW relationship, it wasn’t, I’m guessing, the root cause. It’s OK for 18-year-old kids to get really excited about a program and realize they’d be happier elsewhere. I think this was a case of everyone coming to a realization that UW wasn’t right for Williams, Williams wasn’t right for UW and THE Ohio State University was the beneficiary. It certainly hurt the Badgers’ running back depth and definitely spiked fan morale right in the stomach. But it wasn’t because of a tweet.